When’s the Last Time You Went to the Circus?

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IT’S EASY TO scoff at the ancient Corinth church of Christ.  Her assemblies, dare I say it–were something of a circus.  And yes, there is evidence to support that troubling claim.

First of all, two or more brethren were speaking simultaneously during the preaching (1 Cor. 14:6-18; 26ff).  It’s challenging enough today to really listen and worship during a sermon, but imagine having to do so when more than one speaker is talking–and each of them is transmitting God’s word in a foreign language–a language which you’ve never studied.  “Honey, what did you get out of today’s sermon?”  “I didn’t get anything out of today’s revelation because I couldn’t understand it…”

Second, Corinth’s confusion wasn’t just limited to what came out of the pulpit or Bible class.  Division, fracture and schism permeated the local church body in a myriad of ways (1 Cor. 1-3).  Paul said, “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you…” (1:18).

These divisions were most evident, of all places, at the Lord’s Table (vv. 19ff).  I can’t call it “communion” (1 Cor. 10:16), because what Corinthian was doing at that period of worship was anything but communing–either among themselves or with the Lord (11:17, 20; cf. Mat. 26:29).

Some members were eating ahead of of other members (v. 21).  And it’s not just that everybody wasn’t eating at the same time, it’s that some members were eating while others were actually going hungry.

Imagine attending a congregational dinner-on-the-grounds on an empty stomach while watching some of your own brethren eating to the point of over indulgence–even drunkenness (v. 21b).  This obviously wasn’t what Christ had in mind when He said the church was to come together on the first day of the week to partake of His body and blood (cf. Mat. 26:26-29; cf. Acts 20:7).  Corinth failed to understand that fact and made the unfortunate mistake of combining the common and the spiritual.  She had mixed what we call a potluck (e.g., love feast–Jude 13) with the Supper of the Lord.

Back at the very first Lord’s Supper, after Jesus and the twelve finished the Passover, the Lord instituted the commemorative feast in order to help the future church focus on the real Lamb of God (cf. Exo. 12; John 1:29).  Corinth, despite apostolic teaching to the contrary (1:4-5), had amalgamated a meal for the belly (from the Passover) with a meal for the heart (the Lord’s Supper).

The saints not only misunderstood the proper form of worship, but they also held improper views about the heart and spirit of worship.  Yes–there was activity, but that activity was shallow and self-centered rather than Christ-centered.  Yes, they were coming together (11:17, 18, 20, 33), but it wasn’t coming together in an effort to honor the risen Lord, share in His spiritual blessings, and announce His inevitable return (11:26).  The church at Corinth was coming together for, “gulp,” judgment (v. 34).

It was clownish.  Circus-like.  It was the Big Top.  A spectacle.  Carnal as opposed to spiritual.  “Me” instead of Christ in the limelight.

Of course, Corinth, at least initially, didn’t possess divinely-ordained, written-down documentation in completed form.  At that time frame in the churches’ early history, the Word existed in mortal vessels–people–as the Spirit gave them utterance (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Pet. 1:21).

But we don’t have that excuse today, do we (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3)?  We have the complete, inspired revelation of God (Jude 3).  Which means, of course, that we don’t struggle today at or with the Lord’s Supper, right?  When we gather as the church, we always do it just as our Savior prescribed.  Right?  A few, sincere brethren might chime in and day, “But Mike, we’ve got it right–we have unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, and we’re a sound church because we observe the Lord’s Supper just as Jesus authorized.”  Maybe.  Maybe no.

The biblical word translated “sound” (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1) means healthy; it’s where we get our English word “hygiene.”  Friend, may I ask some probing questions about the Lord’s Supper for your personal introspection?  (NOTE:  If the questions I’m about to ask aren’t applicable to you personally, then drop this in the waste paper basket and go on about your day, but if you do discover that I’m stepping on your toes, in the interest of your eternal soul, please give this some honest thought and repent of when and where you’re failing.

  • When we rush through the Supper like a McDonald’s drive-through and regularly treat it like something to be checked off our to-do list, can we really say were sound?
  • When we harbor ill-will and hard feelings toward fellow saints and we talk about them behind their backs without actually going to them one-on-one for reconciliation (Mat. 18:15-17), can we consume the bread and fruit of the vine and then honestly say we’re healthy in God’s eyes?
  • When we habitually come late to the services, shake a quick couple of hands, fail to bring, much less open our Bibles, consume the elements of the supper with little or no personal inspection, and then hurry out of the assembly early to get to a ball game or the beach, are we really so deluded to think we possess healthy souls?
  • When we partake of that small bit of unleavened bread and the contents of the tiny plastic cup while members of our own church family are quite literally starving for attention, love and some needed gesture of compassion, how are we not participating with Corinth in the circus?
  • When our minds are consumed with temporal matters and we only offer God a momentary flash of gratitude at the supper, while widows are brokenhearted, single parents beg for physical assistance, and teenagers aren’t receiving spiritual and moral guidance outside of the pulpit, is it accurate to categorize ourselves as sound in the faith?
  • When we eat the bread and drink the cup and then head out to the local buffet while simultaneously feasting on roasted preacher and/or broiled elder, can we truly argue we’ve done so with Christ’s authority (Col. 3:17; Gal. 5:15)?
  • When we consume unleavened bread and fruit of the vine at the table, but then work behind the scenes to get rid of the current preacher so that we can a new one that we like, is spiritual well-being a reality in our lives?

Sure, Corinth is easy pickings.  She was the worst-case scenario of carnality at the very time when we she should have been spiritual.  She had turned sacred worship into a selfish stage of self-aggrandizement.  Her assemblies were Barnum and Bailey.  “Turn the lights on me.  Ladies and gentlemen–let me direct your attention to the center ring–where I speak first (or at the same time you do), while I follow Paul, or Peter, or Apollos (or Jame, or Frank, or Bob), and where I eat the loaf and drink the cup while simultaneously devouring (or neglecting) my kind in the Lord.”  You get the point.

The Lord’s Supper is when saints in the Lord are to lovingly commune with the Lord and His church.  “When we meet in sweet communion…”  “Hearts are brought in closer union…”

It’s not my purpose to injure by beloved church family–either here or abroad, nor do I have an ax to grind with any particular member–past or present.  I’m simply saying we have to get the supper right (John 4:24).  We.  HAVE.  To.

And to do that, some of us may need to close the circus, grab the scalpel of the word, engage in serious heart surgery (11:28-34; cf. Psm. 139:23), and then make genuine amends.  Paul said, “Let a man examine himself…” That’s what Corinth needed two-millennia ago; that’s what many of us need today.  Only then can we truly be healthy.

Who’s Coming to Visit?

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James said, “Pure and undefiled religion” involves “visiting” (1:27).

When I was a youngster growing up in the church, I used to think that visiting meant just that – visiting.  You went to somebody’s house, you knocked on their door, you went inside and chatted with them for twenty minutes or so, you prayed with them, and then you left.  In actuality, the word rendered “visit” in James’ epistle means, “to inspect, to look upon in order to help or benefit.”1

Ponder that definition for just a moment.  God’s idea of pure and undefiled religion involves studying the needs of others and then doing what we can to help them.  Real visitation means examining their circumstances and serving them with the goal of alleviating their distress.

Now turn in your Bible to Matthew chapter 4.

We could correctly say that Jesus was in a type of distress, could we not?  He had been in the wilderness without physical sustenance for more than a month (3:1; cf. Mark 1:12-13).  And following His baptism, at the very beginning of His ministry, during this period of prolonged and intense fasting, Jesus had company.

It was the devil.  Diabolos–the slanderer, the accuser, the one who was and is consistently opposed to God.  Satan–the adversary, the one who resists.

The Tempter came to visit Jesus, but his religion (Acts 26:5; Col. 2:18; Jas. 1:26-27) was anything but pure and undefiled (cf. James 3:13-18), and he came to the Lord, not to assuage His suffering, but to amplify it (cf. Gen. 3:1ff; Job 1-2; 1 John 2:15-17).2

Now watch his nefarious methodology (2 Cor. 2:11).  He approached Jesus when the Lord was in an extremely weakened state.

Now don’t forget that that Jesus was fully human while on earth (John 1:14).  He was flesh and bone (Luke 24:39).  He was born (Luke 2:7).  He grew (Luke 2:40, 52).  He got tired (Mark 4:38; 6:31; John 4:6).  He got thirsty (John 19:28).  He got hungry (Mat. 4:2).  He experienced physical weakness and fatigue (Mat. 4:11; Luke 23:26).

Matthew says that after forty days, “He (Jesus) was hungry” (v. 2).  He suffered want.  He was famished.  He craved food.  Most of use are hungry after four hours without sustenance; Jesus was literally starving after forty days.3

You may be thinking, “Mike, how is that information relevant to me?”  The answer is, because after forty days of fasting, Jesus’ body was severely depleted – and at this critical moment when there were no more organic resources for Him to draw upon, the devil THEN came to visit.

Think about that long and hard.  WHEN are you most tempted?  WHEN are you most inclined to succumb to the devil’s allurements?  Isn’t it often times when you’re already in a weakened state?  Isn’t it often at a time when you’ve been doing without?  You’ve lost a dear loved one and you hunger for their touch and presence.  Your marriage is being torn asunder and neither you nor your spouse has rendered conjugal rights for months on end (cf. 1 Cor. 7:2-5).  You’ve lost your job and you’ve been without a regular paycheck for longer than you can remember.

Pick the pain.  Isn’t during these kinds of times that you give yourself the right to sin?  “After all,” you think, “I NEED this…” (whatever “this” happens to be).  Maybe its alcohol, maybe it’s illegal or prescription drugs, maybe its porn, maybe it’s illicit sex, etc.  Since your legitimate needs aren’t being met, you seek to fulfill them, in desperation, in ungodly ways.

That’s exactly what Jesus was grappling with after His fast.  He was hungry in a way most of us can’t comprehend.  His body was devoid of any and all of the nutrients His body required to sustain itself, and THAT’s when the devil knocked on His door.

He appealed to Jesus to fulfill his needs by means of His own miraculous hand.  “IF you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Mat. 4:3).  “Since You’re obviously hungry Jesus, why not satiate your legitimate longing by means of a quick miracle?  IF you really are the Son and can work supernatural signs, then prove it by turning stones into your Own personal happy meal.

Here are a few thoughts I glean from this encounter:

  • While the devil isn’t all-knowing, he is knowing.  He knows when you’re hurting and therefore when you’re most vulnerable.
  • If he can get you to rationalize your sin (as he did with Eve–Gen. 3:1-4), He’s won half the battle.
  • Since the devil visited the Lord when He was weak, it stands to reason that he’ll visit you at that same time too.
  • The best time to prepare for the devil’s eventual stopover is NOW (Eph. 6:11-18; Jas. 4:7).
  • Jesus answered the devil’s attacks with “It is written” (Mat. 4:4, 7, 10); we have access to that very same power (Psm. 119:11).
1 (Greek–episkeptomaihttps://www.blueletterbible.org/nkjv/jas/1/27/t_conc_1147027
2 “Nowhere in the biblical account of Jesus’ temptation does Luke record that the devil appeared to Jesus.  Possibly, Satan spoke to the Lord the same way he often communicates with us: through the mind.”  Robert Jefferies–https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/when-satan-comes-knocking-11547393.html
3 Nutritionists tells us that going without food for lengthy periods of time would have had serious, life-threatening effects upon the Lord’s body:  How Long Can You Live Without Food?  https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/how-long-can-you-live-without-food

 

Are You Willing to Let Go?

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WHEN SHE CAME to His tomb early Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene discovered that the stone had been rolled aside and that Jesus’ body was missing (Mat. 28:1; John 20:1). She had lost Him twice—first to the grave and later to thieves (John 20:2), or so she thought.  Evidently the same people who were responsible for His death were also guilty of stealing His corpse.

She was understandably brokenhearted and the awful crimes carried out against the Lord fueled her despair (vv. 11, 14).  She repeated her anguish three different times:

  • “They have taken away the Lord…” (v. 2).
  • “…They have taken away my Lord…” (v. 13).
  • “Sir, if You have carried Him away…” (v. 15).

Evidently Mary hadn’t considered the possibility of Christ’s resurrection—at least not in the torment of this moment (cf. v. 9).  If she, like the other disciples was conscious of Old Testament prophecy (i.e., Hosea 6:2, Jonah 1:17, Isaiah 53:10-12, Psalm 16:10), she hadn’t put two and two together.

Suddenly, here at the tomb, Mary met the Lord in prophecy realized—and He wasn’t dead, but very much alive.  He appeared to her and echoed the question that the angels had asked earlier, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (v. 15, cf. v. 13).  She assumed the individual who expressed concern over her tears was the local cemetery gardener.  It was still too dark at that hour for her to know the true identity of her querist (v. 1).  She tried once again to explain the reason for her grief when the Lord called her by name, “Mary!” (v. 16).  In an instant she knew to Whom she was speaking.  It was Rabboni—her Teacher (v. 16)!

The raw emotion of not only seeing Jesus, but the living and breathing Jesus, moved not only her tongue but her arms, and she immediately embraced Him.  Most of us would agree that that was a natural response.

Ironically, Jesus insisted that she let Him go.  “Do not cling (hold—NIV) to Me…,” (v. 17a), He urged.  Despite the strength of her affections and the excitement of encountering the risen Christ, Mary had to release the Lord and then go and tell her peers what she had witnessed and Whom she had met at the grave (vv. 17-18).

Mary, like Thomas a week later (vv. 24-26), needed a tangible Christ.  She needed to see Him and cling to Him because her security was embedded in an earthly, corporeal Savior.  It’s been my observation that some brethren today are like Mary Magdalene—they also need to fasten themselves to the concrete Christ.  Think I’m over-stating my case?  Consider:

  • Why is it that some church members today habitually skip evening services?  If Jesus was really going to be at the church building, they’d be sure to attend, wouldn’t they?  Of course, we know He’s at all of our assembles (Mat. 28:20; 26:29; cf. Heb. 13:5b), but His presence, for some odd reason, is less apparent after the morning worship, a Sunday buffet, and a hearty nap.
  • Why is it that some Christians claim that when they offer their prayers, they feel as if they’re simply speaking to a wall?  If Jesus was really there, He’d manifest Himself in some overt, even miraculous, fashion and then affirmatively answer their petitions with the swiftness of a new microwave oven.
  • Why is that when temptation whispers, “Nobody else will find out…” that some children of God repeatedly succumb to its allures (1 Cor. 10:13)?  If Jesus was actually standing close by and observing their behavior, they no doubt could, and would, withstand the devil’s assaults.

People need a solid Savior—One that they can actually hold on to in a perceptible way.  Because if they can’t interact with and talk to Him like they talk to their friends, He’s little more than a faint mirage—a Messiah only on the rice paper pages of their Bibles.  If He can’t be encountered with their physical senses when sin entices, His body might as well be back in the tomb in Jerusalem.

The problem is—Paul said, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).  Memorize that.  “NOT by sight.”  Our faith in, and obedience to, the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25) is not dependent upon our senses.  On the contrary, it’s based upon a strong confident faith, one that is grounded in the innerrancy of Scripture.  It is “the ASSURANCE of things hoped for, the EVIDENCE of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  We can know the Lord (1 John 2:3, 5-6; 4:13), even though we can’t relate to Him in a tangible fashion (1 John 1:2), we can have fellowship with Him (Mat. 12:48-50; 1 Cor. 1:9; 1 John 1:3, 6), even though we can’t touch Him, and we can walk with Him (Gen. 5:24; Col. 2:6;1 Pet. 2:2, 6), even though we can’t see Him!

Jesus HAD to ascend.  And, like Mary Magdalene, we HAVE to let Him go in a material way (John 20:29).  You won’t ever bump into Him at Wal-Mart.  He won’t fix your flat tire—except through the arms of His spiritual body, the church (Mat. 25:40, 45).  You won’t feel Him pat you on the back when you’re struggling with your marriage, but that doesn’t mean that He’s unaware of your pain (Mat. 26:38-39; Heb. 4:15), that He doesn’t hear your cries (Psm. 34:15; 1 Pet. 3:12), that He’s not present (Exo. 33:14; Psm. 27:8; Jer. 29:13), or that He doesn’t love you (1 John 4:16).

“Because you have seen Me, you have believed.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29b; cf. 1 Pet. 1:8).

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Oxford church of Christ

Oxford, AL—2018